U.S. Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal said he does not know how a story on a bill he proposed two months ago — and in three previous sessions of Congress — made national headlines just in time to rally Republicans for his gubernatorial campaign.
The bill, House Resolution 1868, proposes to end the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants unless at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident or an active member of the U.S. armed forces.
Although Deal introduced the bill into the U.S. House of Representatives on April 2, it made headlines earlier this week.
The timing — less than one month after Deal announced his bid for governor — drew accusations from critics that the bill was nothing but political pandering to Deal’s conservative constituents.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, was one such critic. Gonzalez said the bill, entitled the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009, was a political ploy to garner attention. He called the move shameful and despicable.
"(Deal) wants to tinker with the U.S. Constitution to further his xenophobic political ideology, and that is just not what we should expect from our congresspersons," Gonzalez said.
But Deal said he did not have anything to do with the media attention that the bill received this week. He said he did not issue a press release on the piece of legislation. Instead, a reporter from the Associated Press called him "out of the blue" about the bill last week, he said.
"People that make those accusations need to get their facts straight," Deal said.
The only political posturing in the timing of the bill was the congressman’s plan to wait for the number with which to name it — House Resolution 1868, he said.
Deal said he waited for resolution No. 1868, because he wanted to be able to name his bill after the year the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed the right of citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil, was adopted.
"It goes to the meaning behind the 14th Amendment, which was originally intended to settle the status of former slaves," said Deal. "I don’t think anybody could logically argue then that (its writers knew) that we would see a time where 1 out of every 10 births in this country is to an illegal immigrant."
Deal said the bill, sponsored by 46 other representatives, is designed to limit so-called "anchor baby" births in the United States. And the chairman of the Hall County Republican Party Jim Pilgrim is behind Deal’s bill 100 percent, he said.
"I can’t imagine that a child becomes a citizen of the United States if they have two parents who are illegal," Pilgrim said.
But the idea outraged local immigration attorney Arturo Corso. Corso said the proposed resolution and Deal’s recent vote against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program made him question Deal’s commitment to the rights of children.
"Taking away a child’s birthright is a pretty outrageous way to address immigration problems," Corso said.
Corso and Gonzalez both said the bill was the wrong way to address immigration reform. To be effective, Corso said the congressman should first listen to the business interests of the community and the state.
"Anti-immigration policy hurts business and we need the labor that immigrants supply," Corso said.
Gonzalez said GALEO wants to work with Deal to propose more effective immigration reform.
"If he’s serious about addressing the issue, he needs to work with us to ensure that we have a workable solution that restores the rule of law and keeps families together, rather than demagoging on this birthright citizenship issue," Gonzalez said.
Yet Corso, like others, said he did not believe the bill would pick up much steam.
Deal introduced the same bill to the House in April 2007 and a similar bill in 2005 that also required the child’s parents to be legally married, excluding common law marriages. Neither bill ever made it out of committee.
Because of the bill’s unsuccessful past, local Democrat and attorney Joe Diaz said he is not worried about the outcome this time.
"I don’t think it’s going to happen," Diaz said. "I’d be concerned if I thought there was any realistic possibility at all."
Diaz, too, said he felt the bill was a move to excite conservative Republicans about Deal’s campaign for governor.
"But even if he were sincerely serious about doing that, I don’t know that he’s going to get the votes in the current government to back that up," Diaz said.
The congressman has also said he doubts the bill will make it out of the House Judiciary committee. But he said that is not the point.
"The likelihood is not that great," Deal said. "But by having the bill filed if and when we do deal with a comprehensive immigration reform package it does mean it is an issue that’s already there."